Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of eight novels, published by Revell and Guideposts, including The Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas and The Reunion. Reviewers often compare Dan’s books to Nicholas Sparks. His latest project is a 4-book fiction series with Gary Smalley. The first book, The Dance, just released in April. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Dan now writes fulltime in Port Orange, FL. He and his wife Cindi have been married 36 years. You can email him or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. There are buttons to connect to these on his website at http://danwalshbooks.com.
I (interviewer, Lynda Schab) had the pleasure of meeting Dan and his wife at a writer’s conference a few years ago, when his first book (The Unfinished Gift) was just coming out. It’s been fun to watch his career take off, and I’ve enjoyed every one of his books so far. Now, he answers a few questions about his own writing journey, and offers a bit of encouragement for not-yet-published authors.
LYNDA SCHAB: You recently retired from twenty-five years as an ordained pastor of one church. While many pastors seem to write non-fiction books, we don’t hear of many who go on to write novels. Have you always wanted to write fiction or was this something that God suddenly dropped into your heart?
DAN WALSH: I guess the term “recently retired” is a relative one, as I retired from pastoral ministry almost three years ago now. I just finished my tenth novel, and I’m actually beginning to feel more like an author now than a pastor. To answer your question, it’s probably fair to say that I was a writer who became a pastor, rather than a pastor who became a writer. I’ve wanted to write novels since the eleventh grade and, if you asked me back then, I thought that’s what I’d be doing with my life. I set that dream aside after experiencing a call to ministry when I turned 20. God has kindly brought it back to me here, later in life.
LYNDA: You have been dubbed many times as the Nicholas Sparks of Christian fiction (that’s quite a compliment, by the way!) What made you choose romance instead of the more typical manly suspense/thriller/sci-fi route?
DAN: In some ways this wasn’t intentional. I’ve always been drawn to stories that are relationally driven, in books and movies. Perhaps because I’m a guy, I especially like relational stories that include a strong plot and significant suspense, not ones that are purely romantic. But I love great love stories and, because of the woman I married, I’ve been experiencing one of my own the last 36 years. To me, she is simply the finest person on earth. So easy to be with. We’ve been watching love stories together all that time, so it feels very natural for me when I write to include a significant thread of romance in all my books. Stories without love seem rather empty to me. If you think about it, all the classic stories of the past (example: the old Disney animated movies) include both: plenty of action and suspense while this strong romantic story unfolds.
LYNDA: So true, Dan. Readers certainly love love!
Since becoming a full-time author in 2010, you have had several books published. Briefly share your journey to publication.
DAN: I’ve actually published 8 books (one was part of a series with Guideposts but is only available through their website). My 9th novel, The Promise, is due out this September (the 2nd with Gary Smalley for our Restoration Series), and I’m at the final editing stage of my 10th book, What Follows After, which will be out next Spring. It all started with my first novel, The Unfinished Gift, completed during the summer of 2007. Instead of the long, arduous journey to publication I expected―including filling up a drawer full of rejection letters―I only received one. The second and third agents I submitted to both wanted to read the entire book and both wanted to represent me.
I signed with Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates, and she had a contract with Revell two months later. It released in time for Christmas in 2009. It went on to receive two Carol Awards, has been published in five different editions, and spent its 4th Christmas season in 2012 in Amazon’s Top 10 list of Bestselling Christmas books (several times ranking at the #1 spot). I think it’s safe to say this book opened some wonderful doors for me and made my publication journey a lot less bumpy than it has been for so many of my friends.
LYNDA: Wow! It’s inspiring to know success stories like yours really do happen! So what does your writing process look like? Do you have a specific routine or does it vary with each book?
DAN: Now that I’m writing full-time and have been for several years, a routine for my writing process is beginning to emerge. I typically start the day with a quiet time, then it’s coffee with my wife before she heads out for the day. In the morning, I take care of all of my miscellaneous writing assignments (social networking, emails, interviews and articles, blogging, etc.). I take a short break for lunch, then write all afternoon till about 5-5:30pm. The first half-hour is spent reading what I wrote yesterday; editing it a little and getting back into the feel of the story. Then I start writing today’s chapter and don’t stop until I finish. I write organically from a 3-5 page synopsis, not from a detailed outline. Often things happen in the story that I didn’t anticipate, so I’ll occasionally have to take a “research break” to get my facts straight. Sometime shortly after Cindi gets home from work, I’ll read her what I wrote (this is definitely a part of my process).
LYNDA: I love that. Writing is such a solitary profession, and many spouses don’t “get it.” How wonderful that you can share your work with your wife.
You mentioned research. You’ve written a few historical romances, which must require a lot of study. Do you enjoy that part of the process? And do you have any tips to motivate writers who dread it?
DAN: I LOVE researching my historical novels. The truth is, I’d probably enjoy reading and exploring this information even if it weren’t for a book I’m writing. As it turns out, only about 10% of the information I uncover ends up in my story. I think writers should look at this time like a treasure hunt. You are on the prowl for these delightful gems of information that will make your story impact the reader in a powerful way. The goal of nonfiction is to inform; the goal of fiction is to inspire. So I’m not looking for blah-blah-blah filler material, I’m looking for fascinating things that would stir the interest of my readers and help them connect better with my story.
LYNDA: You have a book coming out this month that you co-authored with Gary Smalley. What a wonderful opportunity! How did that come about, and was this your first time co-authoring? What was the experience like for you?
DAN: It has been a great opportunity, especially getting to work with Gary and know him better. He’s a remarkable man, something of a living legend. When my editor first called me about it, she had no idea that Gary’s first book, If Only He Knew, literally saved my marriage 30 years ago. By year five, I had almost ruined our marriage when a friend handed me Gary’s book.
This was the first time co-authoring for me, though I had just finished writing that book for Guideposts, where I was part of a team of twelve authors working on a series, all set in the same location using the same characters. In some ways, working with just one person was much easier, especially when that person is as kind and humble as Gary.
What brought this about? Gary had decided he wanted to collaborate on another fiction series similar to the one he did with Karen Kingsbury. Since he was still traveling a great deal he gave his team some guidelines and asked them to help him find a new author, one whose writing would affect him the way Karen’s books did. The outcome of this search led them to giving Gary my first two novels to take with him on his next trip. He called them back a few days later, crying, asking them to call Revell to see if I would be willing to work with him. Of course, I said yes.
LYNDA: Finally, what advice or encouragement would you give writers who are seeking publication?
DAN: Don’t become sidetracked in your writing by all of the many distractions clamoring for your attention. Some of them are even important. Some of them only sound important. But none of them can compare to the importance of learning how to write and rewrite a great book. A great book will find its way to publication, because that’s what readers are always looking for. But no amount of marketing, publicity or social networking can make up for a mediocre story poorly told.
LYNDA: Definitely good advice for unpublished and published writers! Thanks so much, Dan, for taking the time to answer my questions. I personally look forward to reading your books for many years to come, and wish you the very best in your career.